Music Reviews

Mahler, Magic and More

Have you heard about it yet? Have you read about it? Ivan Fischer’s new release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is garnering raves from everywhere. This is one of the high points of his superb on-going survey of Mahler symphonies. Yes, there are LOTS of fine recordings of this symphony, but this is one you really must hear. It leaves me speechless. What more can I say!

Speaking of Mahler, I’ve always enjoyed Mahler’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet #14 in D Minor (Death and the Maiden) more than the original. I felt that the larger string orchestra was more able to express mood and power then a quartet. Well, a new release from The Dragon Quartet, featuring the amazing violinist Ning Feng, has won me over! This Death and the Maiden in it’s original form grabbed me from the first few notes and held me suspended throughout the four movements. The artistry is amazing, and the quartet plays as one.

Also included is Dvorak’s Quartet #12 in F Major (American). Dvorak wrote it in three days while visiting Spillville, Iowa– a community of Bohemian emigrants. Some feel the melodies represent American folk music, others say there is more of a Bohemian feel. I don’t think it matters. It’s lovely. The Dragon Quartet was beautifully recorded in the Dutch Reformed Church in Renswoude, The Netherlands, which offers a perfect atmosphere. Tuneful, delightful— everything you could want from Dvorak.

Listen to the samples:

A very fine version of the Mahler arrangement is also available here:

And if you’d like to hear Ning Feng’s violin catch fire with some romantic favorites– and fabulous renditions of two concertos:

Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969) was the founder and long-tern conductor of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and his legacy was immense. His recordings are prized by collectors and audio fans who’ve been around for … a while. He premiered many important works and was well known for his Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, and others. His Decca recordings are still famous for their superior recording quality. I’ve discovered four albums featuring the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by the amazing young Kazuki Yamada. I think that Yamada must be channeling Ansermet, because the results are amazing.

A couple of years back there was an album of wonderful music from Richard Strauss, Korngold, Liszt, Schreker, and Busoni. Last year there was his album of works by Roussel, Debussy, and Poulenc. Then another entitled Russian Dances with music from Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. These are performances which would have made the founder quite proud, with recording quality that recalls, and certainly exceeds those famous older Decca recordings.

And now Yamada again invites comparisons to more of Ansermet’s famous recordings with an album of works by Manuel de Falla: Nights In the Gardens of Spain, and The Three Cornered Hat. Mari Kodama is the pianist in the first, Sophie Harmsen is the mezzo-soprano in the second work and both are excellent.

There was magic in those old Ansermet- Suisse Romande recordings. If you loved them as much as I do these new ones from Yamada and the band are absolutely worthy successors with superior recording quality. I’ll be waiting impatiently for Yamada’s take on Rimsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Ravel.

OK… a mystery post.   I don’t want you to read about this. I don’t want you to be influenced by what anybody thinks about the pianist or his style.   Listen as if you were hearing these for the first time. These recordings will probably not replace your favorites, but… Oh, just listen and make up your own mind:

Cover Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Written by

Bill Dodd

Bill is Senior Music Reviewer at NativeDSD. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area. He is an avid photographer too! Along with his early interest in broadcasting and high fidelity audio, he was exposed to classical music in small doses from age 5, was given piano lessons from age 9— Starting with Bach and including Gershwin. Successful morning personality in San Francisco at age 22. (true). Sang in choirs in high school and college. Although the broadcasting experience was all in popular music, his personal listening has been mostly classical his whole life—along with others including Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Joni Mitchell, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.


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